A Pap test is a test of a sample of cells taken from a woman's cervix or vagina. The test is used to look for changes in the cells of the cervix and vagina that show cancer or conditions that may develop into cancer.
It is the best tool to detect precancerous conditions and hidden, small tumors that may lead to cervical cancer. If detected early, cervical cancer can be cured.
Pap screen testing should begin at age 21. Routine screening is recommended every three years for women 21-65 years old. For women 30 to 65 years who have a normal Pap test with a negative HPV test, screening can be done every five years.
The Pap test is done during a pelvic exam. A doctor uses a device called a speculum to widen the opening of the vagina so that the cervix and vagina can be examined. A plastic spatula and small brush are used to collect cells from the cervix. After the cells are taken, they are placed into a solution. The solution is sent to a lab for testing.
Is the Pap Test Painful?
A Pap test is not painful but may be a little uncomfortable.
When Will I Know the Results of the Pap Test?
It may take several weeks to get the test results. If you haven't heard from your doctor's office after three weeks, give them a call to see if your results have come back.
What Do the Results of a Pap Test Mean?
A normal Pap test means the cells from the cervix look normal. An abnormal Pap test means the cells do not look normal. Sometimes repeat Pap tests are needed. Different tests also may need to be done, such as a colposcopy (the use of a special microscope to examine the cervix and vagina). Pap tests can occasionally show signs of infection but cannot be relied on to screen for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Other tests are necessary to determine the presence of an STD. There are several things you can do to help make the Pap test as accurate as possible. These include avoidance of sex, douching, and vaginal creams for 48 hours before the test.
What Happens If the Results Are Abnormal?
An abnormal Pap test does not necessarily mean that cancer cells were found during the examination. There are many causes for abnormal Pap test results, including infection, inflammation related to using a diaphragm or sex, and changes related to your menstrual cycle. Your doctor will evaluate the results to determine if further testing is necessary.
Why Would I Need to Repeat the Pap Test?
A repeat Pap test may be necessary if there were not enough cells collected during the test. Since decreased levels of the female hormone estrogen also can influence Pap test results, menopausal women may need to take estrogen before they repeat the test. This is not an abnormal result but is called unsatisfactory for evaluation.